Storybook Ending to a Storybook Career For Sam Ficken
The date was September 8, 2012, and the Nittany Lions were looking to bounce back from a season-opening loss against Ohio. Penn State traveled to Scott Stadium in Charlotesville, Virginia in search of the season’s first win, but victory eluded the team as the Cavaliers mounted a comeback 17-16 victory, scoring a touchdown with just 1:28 on the clock.
You could say that the difference in the game came down to a blocked extra point following a Matt McGloin touchdown pass to Allen Robinson earlier in the fourth quarter. You could also say that Sam Ficken’s four missed field goals led to the game culminating in a one-point loss. Either way, you simply can’t get around the obvious: Sam Ficken is to blame for the loss on that fall afternoon in Virginia.
Bill O’Brien became known for regularly attempting fourth downs that year, even in the red zone, likely because of some PTSD stemming from the Virginia game. Ficken onlu attempted two field goals from 40+ yards out after that game, and that certainly wasn’t because Penn State didn’t face fourth downs from that range. He missed both of them, but what’s most memorable about Ficken’s first year as a Penn State starting kicker was how he finished, knocking in 12 of 13 field goal attempts in the last seven games of the year, including 10 straight to end the season.
Two years later, the soft-spoken kicker from Indiana is arguably the most trustworthy player on the team. His senior campaign was undeniably one of the best by any kicker in the nation as he finished 24-for-29 on field goal attempts. Four of the five misses were blocked, with a 51-yard try falling short of the goalposts.
And in case you haven’t yet figured out why I’m writing about him, Ficken topped off a rollercoaster of a career by nailing a field goal to tie up the Pinstripe Bowl in the final minute and knocking home an extra point in overtime for the walk-off win.
“It’s a storybook ending,” he said after the game. “I couldn’t have written a better way for it to go. This team has worked so hard, fought through so much, and to say we made it to a bowl and won a bowl is really incredible. We stuck together through thick and thin through everything, way back to freshmen year. We’ve won some, we’ve lost some, but we’re going to fight no matter what. That’s kind of the storyline for this whole year.”
That’s also the storyline for Ficken’s entire career. He could have slowly faded into the sunset amid a slew of missed field goals and disappointed Penn State football fans, bringing up the next guy on the depth chart and cementing his legacy as “that guy who missed four field goals in one game.” That would have been a whole lot easier than bouncing back to become the best kicker in school history and one of the best in the country.
It’s only fitting that Ficken was placed in Derek Jeter’s locker at Yankee Stadium on Saturday. While he isn’t a fan of the Yankees, Ficken said that he got the locker because he’s nice to the equipment crew, although I have an inkling that there might have been more to it than that.
“Obviously the way the game went and the way my career went, it’s kind of a funny thing,” he said when asked about using Jeter’s locker.
“I never root for another kicker to miss because of what I went through, however I was a little excited [when Boston College’s kicker missed the extra point in overtime]…I’m just so happy for this team, and to end it that way in overtime in Yankee Stadium in New York City is perfect.”
Just as he said, it was truly a storybook ending to the saga that is the Penn State sanctions, just as it’s a storybook ending to Ficken’s entire college career.